If you build it… they will come

The Cleveland Co-op Model Experiencing Unprecedented Success

Looking for a model to build a value-driven, placed-based, industrial-sized businesses dedicated to equity, inclusion and local ownership? Want to keep wealth local and build an ecosystem of support that leverages local assets?

Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative discussed the Cleveland Model at the ‘Wealth Building Through Ownership’ panel during the recent CASC/ACE Annual Conference in Calgary, Congress 2016

Steve noted that while the model is named after the city in which it took place, the City of Cleveland itself was not the driver of the project. Instead the vision, and the funding came from partnerships with the Cleveland Foundation, and several Anchor Institutions. The Foundation decided to prioritize funding for capital-intensive businesses to provoke change at the largest scale of which they were capable.

To this end, the Evergreen Cooperatives were launched in 2008 with the intention of generating a grass-roots wealth-building economic shift in Cleveland. Evergreen Cooperatives first created the jobs, then recruited and trained local residents for those positions. Steve counselled, “It is important that these co-operatives are developed at a scale sufficient to interact with larger institutions. They need to have 20 – 40 worker members.”

The Cooperatives began with an industrial-scale Evergreen Cooperative Laundry which operates a state-of-the-art facility with industry-leading green innovations.

The next cooperative to come on line was Evergreen Energy Solutions. It built on the growing momentum to create environmentally sustainable energy and green-collar jobs.

The third business founded by the Coop was Green City Growers – the largest urban food-production greenhouse in the United States.

Certainly, there have been challenges along the way. Steve noted that contracts with Anchor Institutions can be hard to secure, and the cooperative’s business model must first be well designed; initially, Evergreen Coops had insufficient operations systems, and another layer of operations had to be added post-facto.

  • However, after eight years, the Cleveland Model has made significant achievements:
  • They have successfully incubated three businesses
  • They lowered barriers for entry into the workforce, and their worker members build skills on the job
  • Evergreen’s sales are increasing and profits are rising
  • Worker members earn a living wage
  • Over 50% of Evergreen’s workforce has now been able to achieve home ownership

This model has attracted so much attention and is sparking so much energy that a stand-alone for-profit arm, Evergreen Business Services was established to leverage their success. The ripple effect of the Cleveland Model includes related initiatives in The City of Richmond, Virginia, where the Office of Community Wealth Building has been established. Likewise, the Office of Innovation in the city of Rochester is approving an implementation plan for a project to develop worker-owned cooperative businesses as part of their wealth building strategy, in March 2016.

Grow Co-ops Grow!!



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